The unprecedented scale of the COVID-19 outbreak meant thousands of students had to cut their semesters abroad short, and few will be able to make up for the lost time.
I have been told countless times that studying abroad was a once in a lifetime experience and I should take advantage of it while I was in college. I was fortunate enough to be able to study abroad twice, once in college and once in high school.
Studying abroad in Berlin was my first time living outside of the United States and one of the best decisions my 16-year-old self made. The experience taught me a lot about myself and even helped me decide that I wanted to go to college and study international relations.
When I got to college, I already knew I would study abroad again. This time, I wanted to go somewhere different, unlike anything the US or Germany had to offer.
I quickly became interested in Morocco after having a conversation with a friend who was going. I knew I didn’t want to go somewhere where many students frequently went to, such as a country in Europe. Instead, I wanted to study the Middle East and immerse myself in the culture.
After doing more research, I knew I wanted to study abroad in Morocco. The pictures on the internet and the information sessions I attended prior to arriving in the North African country did not fully encompass its beauty.
I counted the days leading up to when I would finally be in Morocco, looking forward to when I got there at the beginning of the semester. I did not anticipate the journey I would have while I was there.
I quickly made friends from the program and fell into a routine I enjoyed. I lived with a host family in Agdal consisting of two friendly parents and two daughters, both in college, one visited home frequently while the other studied in France.
While staying with them, I formed a close relationship with my host family and I looked forward to coming back home each day to tell them about my day and practice my Arabic with them. It was especially difficult to say goodbye to them as they contributed so much to my amazing experience.
While in Morocco, I, along with the friends I made on the program, would attend classes in Agdal to learn more about the Middle East and go on excursions around Rabat.
A typical day for us was to attend classes then go on excursions such as watching an exhilarating football match between Rabat and Casablanca teams. I never saw a crowd so invested into the game that it got us in the spirit as well. Even during the end of it we were all in the spirit and screaming like the rest of the crowd.
We also traveled to the astonishing Fez medina (old city) and explored Rabat’s beauty by going on numerous tours.
I was also privileged enough to travel to different cities in Morocco. My friends and I went to Chefchouen, Merzouga, Casablanca, and Fez.
During the trips, we learned a lot about the different parts of Morocco and met kind Moroccan people along the way. I was very happy to be able to immerse myself in Morocco and its culture; the experiences I had, I will cherish.
Most of all, I will cherish the sights I was able to see with the friends I made. From hiking up a mountain and seeing the entire city of Chefchaouen to riding camels and dirt bikes in the sand dunes of the Sahara Desert on my 21st birthday, these are memories I’ll keep forever.
COVID-19: The beginning of the end
When I had first heard of COVID-19, I had just started to get into the routine of my new life in Morocco. The thought of a new illness breaking out was terrifying but I was assured that it wouldn’t come to Morocco because, at that point, the virus was reduced to being just “like the flu,” something that would blow over quickly.
Despite the number of cases slowly growing, I kept repeating that the novel virus was just “the flu” and to not be concerned and go on with my abroad experience without worry. Little did I know that the coronavirus wasn’t “just like the flu,” it was a pandemic that would put the world on pause.
I didn’t realize the severity of the illness until February when I flew back to Rabat from Rome. My friend and I took a weekend vacation and while boarding our flight back we saw numerous people wearing gloves and face masks.
Italy soon entered lockdown in late February and became the epicenter of the virus in March. Friends from my university studying in Rome were sent back to the United State and had to self-quarantine for two weeks. Things began to feel more and more severe and less like the flu.
It didn’t take long for things to become serious, for the World Health Organization to declare the illness a pandemic. Before we knew it, our study abroad program was canceled and we were told to leave Morocco immediately.
After my numerous plane tickets home all got canceled, my university found a flight for me from Casablanca to Paris, then arriving in Los Angeles. Being at the airport was nerve-wracking. Everyone was on high alert, most of them wearing gloves and masks. Many of them appeared to be tourists stuck in Morocco. My hands were cracked and dry from the amount of hand sanitizer I had used.
When I got to Los Angeles I felt a mix of emotions. I felt relief that I was finally home, but that relief was clouded with sadness and frustration because of what brought me home. I also couldn’t help but feel scared of how COVID-19 would affect the US and how I might have been better off staying in Morocco. I couldn’t even hug my mother when I saw her because I didn’t want to get her sick if I had anything or vice versa.
Reminiscing on my time
This COVID-19 pandemic has been painful for many and has caused immense hardship.
I felt as though I was robbed of my full study abroad experience and I will always remember that my time in Morocco was cut short because of COVID-19. It was very difficult to leave, and I didn’t get to say a proper goodbye to the country and my friends and host family. I resorted to quick hugs and goodbyes to the few I was able to see before I had to leave for the airport.
Being in quarantine for two weeks when I got back to California gave me a lot of time to think and reflect on the time I was able to have in Morocco.
I may not have been able to complete my study abroad experience, but from my experiences I have had so far, I have fallen in love with Morocco. I was sad to leave because I enjoyed being there so much with the friends I grew close with.
Despite my program being cut short and not having the happy ending I had hoped for, as I had in Germany, I know that I will come back to Morocco soon.